I decided, after enjoying many years of general satisfaction in electronic matters, to hire a different company to satisfy my family’s relatively modest appetites for internet, television and telephone.
My subconscious, traitor that it is, seems to have concluded that my life was too tranquil.
The medical specialists assure me that the crick in my neck from trying to hold the phone to my ear for 17 consecutive hours without using my hands should gradually correct itself over the next few decades.
Apparently there are surgical remedies as an alternative.
The word “experimental” and the term “shock therapy” were used.
I was, like so many before me, seduced by technology.
I assumed, in this day of instantaneous and ubiquitous communication, that swapping providers would be light work, involving little more than flipping a few switches and perhaps plugging in a couple of lengths of coaxial cable.
Perhaps this is so in the idealized world of advertising. You know the sorts of commercials I mean, in which an eerily attractive family, after bidding farewell to the eternally smiling installation technician, gathers companionably on the sofa to gobble popcorn and become enraptured, possibly to a dangerous level, by the sheer volume of viewing options.
I don’t live in that world.
My family has argued not only about what we ought to watch, but also about the proper volume and whether we should close the blinds to cut the glare.
At my house the transfer of power, so to speak, extended over more than two weeks and introduced me, telephonically speaking, to a goodly percentage of the world’s customer service representatives.
(Oscar — I’m assuming that’s the correct spelling; perhaps he is Oskar — was especially pleasant, although he was no more successful at solving my problem than any of his counterparts.)
I was surprised not so much by the technological glitches, though, as by the dogged way in which companies cling to their customers.
(Because I had “bundled” my services there were multiple corporations involved; much as the Richter scale works, this didn’t double the number of frustrating phone calls but rather boosted it by more like a factor of 10.)
This is business, of course. I hardly expected to cut the cord without having to listen to a few “well, what would you say to this offer?” pitches.
(Frankly I was hoping the words “Ginsu” and “knife” would be uttered. Alas this was not the case.)
But if, say, the gasoline outfits were as determined as telecommunications corporations, every time you pulled in for a fill up there would be half a dozen attendants from competing stations beckoning with 5-gallon cans.
And to get to the produce section at, say, Albertsons, you’d have to run a gantlet of Safeway employees who don’t come right out and say so but who strongly imply that they will not only slash prices on your groceries but also show up at your house and hand deliver a frosty beer to you in your easy chair.
A few times, while listening to yet another representative explain, as diplomatically as possible, why I was putting myself on the brink of financial ruin by canceling my service, I actually felt a trifle uncertain about my decision.
Another time, when I thought the employee I was talking with had barely suppressed a sob, I felt guilty, as though I had hip-checked a kindergartner and stolen his cookie.
The transition was finally effected, and on the day promised, but this hardly concluded the matter.
Several days later I received a letter from one of my previous providers. I expected a rebate, since the firm bills in advance and I had canceled our services mid-month.
It was a bill.
Curiously enough, it seemed that in closing out my account I had signed up for a new phone number.
I’m prone to making questionable decisions, to be sure. But I was certain I would remember doing something as illogical as switching my old phone number to a new company yet also asking the old company to assign me a new number just in case I misplaced the other one or forget the digits or something.
I tried to explain how unlikely this was to the first representative I reached after navigating 17 menus and waiting on hold long enough to read two chapters in a Tom Clancy novel.
She assured me it was probably just a clerical error.
I assured her that I agreed, but her assurance wasn’t settling the matter of this bill.
She responded, with what seemed to me real regret — although as I’ve mentioned I’m susceptible to emotional outbursts in these situations — that she was not authorized to rectify the error.
But she was happy — overjoyed, really — to transfer me to the proper department.
(I was a trifle concerned, frankly, about being involved with a company that needs a department just to delete accounts that seemed to arise spontaneously, but I refrained from saying so.)
Apparently that department had knocked off early, because I finally decided, after the numbness had crept from my phone-holding shoulder clear to the top of my head, that nobody was going to answer.
I tried again the next day and got through to a man who, although he had to interrupt our conversation twice because of a coughing fit — his, not mine — told me he would cancel the new account and take care of the bill.
I’d like to believe that’s the end of the matter.
But I expect it will take some months before I can approach the mailbox without a certain trepidation, as though there might a venomous snake coiled in the dark.
Or another phantom phone number to add to my collection.
J ayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.